Fallout from assault against Sirawith; no police protection unless activism ends.

On Sunday (7 July), Doctors of Ramathibodi Hospital have allowed Sirawith ‘Ja New’ Serithiwat to go home, but he will refuse witness protection as the police will not provide it unless he halts his political activism.

Rangsiman Rome (Left), Amarat Choknimitkul (Middle), and Jirayu Huangsup (Right)

He was accompanied home by his mother and family after he had his eye checked by Tossaporn Serirak, an ophthalmologist and former Deputy Secretary-General of the Prime Minister’s Office. He was earlier assaulted by 4 men who almost broke his nose and blinded him on 28 June. He had been transferred from Mission Hospital to Ramathibodi Hospital to meet with doctors specialized in ophthalmology and nose surgery.  

Sirawith said that he requested the police to provide witness protection after the assault, but they said they cannot guarantee his safety unless he stops his political activism. Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of security, reportedly said on Monday that it was up to the police how to proceed. Sirawith said he will refuse the offer claiming “freedom is not a protection fee”.  

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Given the brazenness of the assault and the resulting public outage, the establishment has tried to put its spin on the story. On 2 July, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha congratulated Sirawith on earning a scholarship to study in India and said that he has ordered the police chief to take the greatest care with this case. But he then made a flippant joke asking when ‘Ja New’ will be promoted. (Friends added the word ‘Ja’, meaning ‘sergeant’ to Sirawith’s nickname ‘New’ because his stocky build and dark skin make him look like a sergeant). 

Meanwhile, Prawit asked the police to speed up the investigation and reportedly told the press that the assault has nothing to do with illegal debts or personal relationships, but he still has yet to confirm if the motive behind the assault is political. This is despite the fact that this was the 11th assault against political activists in the last two years. On 4 July, Metropolitan Police Bureau chief Sutthipong Wongpin said that the police have completed sketches of 2 of the 4 suspects.

However, many outside the administration have condemned the political violence. And while still in bed, Sirawith asked a friend to post on Facebook his thanks for their support, saying he hopes that he is the last target. The Music Festival of the Democratic Side, which Sirawith helped to organize and which he would have attended if he had not been assaulted, was held at the 14 October monument on 29 June with a large audience. Originally, the festival was also intended as a commemoration of the Democratic Revolution on 24 June 1932, but unfortunately the organizers had to go to court on that date.

The Music Festival of the Democratic Side

Many public figures joined the festival including Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward Party. He said Ja New’s history of exposing corruption at Rajabhakti Park, and his campaigns against the military coup and for the unelected senate not to vote Prayut Chan-o-cha as the prime minister give people hope to fight. “Ja new is a thorn in the side of the powerful. He is a thorn in the side of those who want the continuation of power. So this is not an attack against Ja New, but a message to us all not to stand up to power.” 

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit at the Music Festival of the Democratic Side

Nattawut Saikua, a leader of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship or the Red Shirt movement, also spoke during the event against violence regardless of political sides. “Even if what happened to Ja New happened to Suthep Thaugsuban, I could not be pleased with it”, said Nattawut, “Even if it happened to someone who disagrees with me every day, I could not be happy with what happened to them. I hope Thai society will keep calm. I hope that Thai society, despite its hate and anger, will not cross the line of humanity so far that it smiles with pleasure at the blood of a fellow human being in society.”

Nattawut Saikua at the Music Festival of the Democratic Side

The pressure also came from abroad as international news agencies reported the assault, including Reuters, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. It haunted Prayut Chan-o-cha even when he went to Osaka, Japan, for the 2019 G20 Summit and Thais in Tokyo displayed signs to condemn the assaults against Ja New at Shibuya Square on 30 June. The Thais in Japan also protested against the rigged election in March and demanded justice for Muramoto Hiroyuki, the Japanese journalist who was killed in Thailand during the 2010 protests.    

Meanwhile, politicians inside the country took action in Parliament as Pol Col Tawee Sodsong, Secretary-General of the Prachachart Party, said the seven opposition parties planned to request Parliament to establish an investigative committee to find truth about Sirawith’s case. Jirayu Huangsup of the Pheu Thai Party and Piyabutr Sangkanokkul of the Future Forward Party requested that it be made an urgent matter in the parliamentary session last Wednesday (3 July). Before the session, Jirayu also held a press conference in front of Parliament along with Amarat Choknimitkul and Rangsiman Rome who showed Sirawith’s blood-stained shirt.

The Phalang Pracharat Party, which paved the way for Prayut Chan-o-cha to be Prime Minister, tried to halt the opposition’s parliamentary attempt with some outrageous comments. “Ja New’s life is not valuable to everybody. Ja New’s life is valuable to somebody,” said Nirote Sunthornlekha, Phalang Pracharat MP for Nakhon Sawan Province. Suphachai Phosu of the Bhumjaithai Party and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, also told Jirayu to “be careful” as the assault happened nearby Jirayu’s home. Suphachai later said he had no intention of making a threat, it was merely a joke to de-escalate the heated discussion, but Jirayu said it was not funny.

The ramifications of this assault will haunt the establishment for some time to come.